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Compton fire chief placed on leave over defibrillators

COMPTON — Fire Chief Jon Thompson was placed on leave July 7 as the city launched an investigation into breakdowns in the department’s management of emergency medical care.

City Manager Johnny Ford told the Los Angeles Times that officials would examine how most city fire trucks and ambulances came to be stripped of defibrillators, a crucial lifesaving device that rescuers use to deliver a shock to try to restart the heart of cardiac arrest victims.

County regulators forced Compton fire officials to remove the devices last week after the city was unable to produce documentation showing that firefighters had been properly trained to use the equipment.

The county’s decision came after The Times reported that nearly one in four Compton firefighters lacked a permit to perform emergency medical care, a key credential required by other local fire agencies.

Former Fire Chief Rico Smith will take over day-to-day management of the department and serve as interim chief, Ford told the newspaper. Thompson will continue to be paid while on leave, he said.

Ford declined to say how long he thought the investigation would take or whether Thompson would return to the job.

Smith, 65, served as Compton’s fire chief for four years, leaving the office in 2007. In an interview with The Times, he vowed to restore the city’s certifications and get defibrillators back on fire apparatus.

Fire officials are still struggling to restore emergency medical technician licenses that lapsed for 17 of the city’s 74 firefighters, including Thompson, The Times reported.

Each member of the group has completed a refresher course, but only one has scheduled and passed the final exam to renew an EMT license.

Mayor Aja Brown said the county’s decision to remove the defibrillators will have a limited impact, because trained paramedics who do carry the devices respond to scenes so quickly that the Compton Fire Department defibrillators were rarely used anyway.

“Currently, they are used an average of nine times per year,” Brown said.

She said the defibrillators “are not a mandatory piece of equipment and not having them does not place citizens at great risk.”

The Times reported in March that nearly one in four city firefighters lacked a permit to perform emergency medical care, a key credential required by other local fire agencies.

“If they aren’t going to follow directions and it’s not going to be a safe use of the equipment, then you have to put a stop to the program,” Cathy Chidester, head of the Los Angeles County Emergency Medical Services Agency, which oversees 911 service in the area, said in comments reported by The Times.

Brown said that while carrying the devices is “not mandatory for EMS personnel, we see [defibrillator] units as a valuable tool and believe by having them available we can better service citizens.”

“After meeting with Los Angeles County Emergency Medical Services Agency, the Compton Fire Department is on track to have their participation in the [defibrillator program] reinstated within the next three weeks,” she said.